Public invited to talk about issues at 'People's State of the Union'

Originally published January 23, 2015 at 4:54 p.m., updated January 23, 2015 at 10:25 p.m.

Following President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address, organizers with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture are hosting events across the country through the end of the month that they’re collectively calling the People’s State of the Union.

Lawrence is one of more than 150 cities participating in the initiative, which encourages citizens to reflect on the state of their community and nation at large through their own experiences.

“This is us talking to each other,” says Dave Loewenstein, who serves as cultural agent of the Lawrence branch. “It’s important to hear from our elected officials, but I think it’s equally important for us to speak to each other about the issues that are meaningful to us.”

The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, it should be noted, is not a government agency, but a national movement dedicated to "cultivating equity, empathy and social change through creative, cultural action.”

Local events are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St., and 5 p.m. Sunday at Lawrence Creates Makerspace, 512 E. Ninth St.

“It’s definitely inspired by this annual moment that we have when the president reflects on the state of the union,” Loewenstein says, but the event won’t necessarily focus on the talking points delivered by Obama in his address.

Instead, attendees will form groups of 10, each facilitated by a volunteer who will supply prompts like, “Tell a story where you felt true belonging,” or, “Share a time that you stood together with people in your community.”

There won’t be any strict guidelines as to what people should talk about, Loewenstein says. Rather, the goal is simply to get people talking.

At the end of the event, participants from each circle will have the opportunity to share their ideas with the larger group.

These stories, along with those from similar gatherings nationwide, will be collected and shared through an online portal, which will then be adapted by a group of poets into a spoken-word piece.

Dubbed the “Poetic Address,” the compilation will air in a live broadcast from New York City’s Bowery Poetry Club on Feb. 1.

“The real fun part will be going through and looking at sites from South Carolina and Washington state and California, and seeing what’s on the minds of your fellow citizens,” Loewenstein says.

Everyone is welcome, Loewenstein says, but each Lawrence venue can only hold so many people. He’s hoping 30 to 40 people come to each event, though he says organizers will plan an additional gathering if there’s an overflow this weekend.

If you can’t make it but still want a chance to share your story, those interested can upload submissions online at www.usdac.us/psotu.